Augmented Reality Future Trends: Hardware

By Paul Mealy

With so many augmented reality devices still in development mode, it can be difficult to look forward to future hardware. Near-future hardware for augmented reality is often just current-generation hardware that has yet to see release. Let’s take a look at what you can expect to see in the near future for augmented reality hardware.

Augmented reality: Heads-up displays

A number of upcoming smart glasses are worth a mention but may not fall under our strict definition of augmented reality (which trends more toward mixed-reality executions).

Intel’s recently announced Vaunt glasses fall into this category. The Vaunt offers an intriguing look at a potential future where augmented reality glasses could actually look like glasses instead of a bulky headset. Vaunt unobtrusively projects information to the user in a form factor nearly indistinguishable from regular glasses. What it doesn’t appear to be just yet is an augmented reality headset along the lines of a HoloLens or Meta 2.

Vaunt currently provides a heads-up information display without the environment-sensing capabilities or high-resolution 3D display of current augmented reality headsets. Instead of focusing on realistic image projection, the Vaunt wants to provide the type of information (such as notifications) most useful to you in the simplest form factor possible. Similar to the simple notifications you receive on your phone of an incoming call or text message, the Vaunt will surface these notifications at the edge of your vision within the glasses. You can then view or dismiss the messages with a casual glance.

This type of execution is similar to the type of information the original Google Glass surfaced for users. It will be interesting to see if this is the type of information that’s actually most useful to users, as opposed to the full-blown environment-sensing capabilities of augmented reality devices.

Interestingly, Vaunt is currently powered by your mobile device (Android or iPhone) over Bluetooth, pushing the heavy calculation down to your phone. This undoubtedly helps facilitate the device’s smaller hardware footprint, perhaps a pointer at things to come for future generations of augmented reality headsets.

Augmented reality devices

To see where augmented reality headsets will be focused next, look to where companies appear to be turning their attention. Hong Kong–based Realmax presented a prototype device at the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show that aligned closely to the current generation of augmented reality headsets but with a 100-degree FOV. This would surpass nearly all currently available augmented reality devices’ FOV.

Technology company Avegant is working on a “multi-focal planar approach” to solve one of augmented reality’s current challenges: replicating human depth perception and how our eyes shift focus between objects near and far. These two companies illustrate areas the next generation of augmented reality headsets will focus on: greater FOV and ways to better replicate depth in augmented reality headsets.

Augmented reality also has and will exist outside of just the headset. Companies such as WayRay have presented their own take on augmented reality experiences in different form factors. WayRay’s True augmented reality navigation system is a holographic augmented reality in-windshield product designed to be installed directly into your windshield by the manufacturer. In the near future, your new car purchase may include a built-in augmented reality R windshield to provide you locations, directions, speed, and any other information that may be pertinent to your trip.

Perhaps the biggest elephant in the room for near-future augmented reality devices is Apple and its future augmented reality intentions. Rumors have long swirled around the company’s development of an augmented reality headset, and CEO Tim Cook has made no secret of Apple’s interest in augmented reality technology. During the Utah Tech Tour, he praised augmented reality and claimed that augmented reality use would be as common as “eating three meals a day.”

He also pointed out that augmented reality had a long road ahead of it: “AR is going to take a while, because there are some really hard technology challenges there. But it will happen, it will happen in a big way, and when it does we will wonder how we ever lived without it. Like we wonder how we lived without our phone today.” Apple has also filed numerous patents around the fields of virtual reality/augmented reality for items such as an Optical System for Head-Mounted Display. But no one but employees at Apple know for sure Apple’s unannounced plans in the virtual reality/augmented reality space.

Like most things in emerging technology fields, almost everything should be taken with a grain of salt until it’s in consumers’ hands. Companies such as Apple often file patents to cover their bases. Many things can happen between product rumors and actual product release to change the course of hardware development. The best way to handle upcoming developments is to stay on top of news about these devices’ development cycles but regard each with a dose of skepticism until the device has reached consumers.